South American Crackdown: Argentina Readies to Fight Hezbollah

Illustration: Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, by Anton Nossik [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

In mid-July, Argentina designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The announcement was made two days after Argentine President Mauricio Mauri announced a list of terrorist organizations, institutions, and operatives, enabling the Argentine authorities to take punitive steps against them.

The announcement was made on the 25th anniversary of the July 18, 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires (the AMIA building), at a time when high-ranking American officials, headed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were visiting the country.

The Economic Information Unit of the Argentine government then issued an order to freeze Hezbollah’s assets in Argentina, because “Hezbollah continues to represent a current threat to security and the integrity of the economic and financial order of the Argentine Republic.”

Designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization gives the Argentine government better tools to deal with Hezbollah’s terrorist, criminal, and subversive activities in Argentina and in Latin America in general.

Argentina, which has a large Shi’ite community, is the first Latin American country to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center’s (ITIC) assessment, behind the move was international pressure, mainly from the U.S., following the great amount of evidence regarding Hezbollah’s activity in the Tri Border area — the triangle where the borders of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet.

Thus Argentina joins the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Holland, all of which have designated Hezbollah — the entire organization — as a terrorist organization. On the other hand, the E.U. and a number of additional European countries still adhere to the mistaken distinction between Hezbollah’s military wing — which they designate as a terrorist organization, and its civilian wing — which they do not designate as a terrorist organization.

Argentina accused Iran and Hezbollah of the terrorist attack on the AMIA building in 1994, in which 85 people were murdered and more than 300 wounded. Iran and Hezbollah were also accused of a terrorist attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier on March 17, 1992, in which 29 people were murdered and more than 250 wounded.

In 2006, after a long investigation, the Argentine authorities requested international arrest warrants (INTERPOL red list warrants) for seven senior Iranians and one senior Hezbollah operative (Imad Mughnieh) on suspicion of involvement in the AMIA bombing. None of them has ever been arrested or indicted.

In response to the Argentine announcement, Sheikh Na’im Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, claimed the decision was in response to American appeals to several countries to carry out its program of exerting pressure on Hezbollah. He also denied any connection between Hezbollah and the terrorist attacks in Argentina.

So far it is unclear whether the Argentine decision will have any practical significance beyond the declarative, and whether it will lead to measures taken by the authorities against Hezbollah. In any event it gives Argentina better tools to cope with Hezbollah in the intelligence, legal, and economic spheres.

In July 2018 Argentina froze the assets of 14 members of the Barakat clan in the Tri Border area, who were, according to the authorities, close to Hezbollah. If such measures are in fact instituted, the Argentine declaration may make difficulties for Hezbollah’s financial and criminal activities in Argentina and Latin America in general.

Click here to view a PDF version of this article including appendices on Hezbollah’s activity in Argentina, an overview of the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and an overview of ITIC publications about Iranian and Hezbollah activity in Argentina and Latin America in general. This article is reprinted with permission of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC).

ITIC was established in 2002 as part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IICC), a national site dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the Israeli intelligence community. The ITIC, located near Gelilot north of Tel Aviv, is directed by (Col. Ret.) Dr. Reuven Erlich. The ITIC’s objective is to collect, study, and disseminate information mainly about terrorism and intelligence. Click here to read more of ITIC's work in The Jerusalem Herald.

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